William Cowper

(26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800 / Hertfordshire)

To My Father (Translated From Milton) - Poem by William Cowper

Oh that Pieria's spring would thro' my breast
Pour its inspiring influence, and rush
No rill, but rather an o'erflowing flood!
That, for my venerable Father's sake
All meaner themes renounced, my Muse, on wings
Of Duty borne, might reach a loftier strain.
For thee, my Father! howsoe'er it please,
She frames this slender work, nor know I aught,
That may thy gifts more suitably requite;
Though to requite them suitably would ask
Returns much nobler, and surpassing far
The meagre stores of verbal gratitude.
But, such as I possess, I send thee all.
This page presents thee in their full amount
With thy son's treasures, and the sum is nought;
Naught, save the riches that from airy dreams
In secret grottos and in laurel bow'rs,
I have, by golden Clio's gift, acquir'd.
Verse is a work divine; despise not thou
Verse therefore, which evinces (nothing more)
Man's heav'nly source, and which, retaining still
Some scintillations of Promethean fire,
Bespeaks him animated from above.
The Gods love verse; the infernal Pow'rs themselves
Confess the influence of verse, which stirs
The lowest Deep, and binds in triple chains
Of adamant both Pluto and the shades.
In verse the Delphic priestess, and the pale
Tremulous Sybil make the Future known,
And He who sacrifices, on the shrine
Hangs verse, both when he smites the threat'ning bull,
And when he spreads his reeking entrails wide
To scrutinize the Fates envelop'd there.
We too, ourselves, what time we seek again
Our native skies, and one eternal Now
Shall be the only measure of our Being,
Crown'd all with gold, and chanting to the lyre
Harmonious verse, shall range the courts above,
And make the starry firmament resound.
And, even now, the fiery Spirit pure
That wheels yon circling orbs, directs, himself,
Their mazy dance with melody of verse
Unutt'rable, immortal, hearing which
Huge Ophiuchus holds his hiss suppress'd,
Orion, soften'd, drops his ardent blade,
And Atlas stands unconscious of his load.
Verse graced of old the feasts of kings, ere yet
Luxurious dainties destin'd to the gulph
Immense of gluttony were known, and ere
Lyaeus deluged yet the temp'rate board.
Then sat the bard a customary guest
To share the banquet, and, his length of locks
With beechen honours bound, proposed in verse
The characters of Heroes and their deeds
To imitation, sang of Chaos old,
Of Nature's birth, of Gods that crept in search
Of acorns fall'n, and of the thunderbolt
Not yet produc'd from Aetna's fiery cave.
And what avails, at last, tune without voice,
Devoid of matter? Such may suit perhaps
The rural dance, but such was ne'er the song
Of Orpheus, whom the streams stood still to hear
And the oaks follow'd. Not by chords alone
Well-touch'd, but by resistless accents more
To sympathetic tears the Ghosts themselves
He mov'd: these praises to his verse he owes.
Nor Thou persist, I pray thee, still to slight
The sacred Nine, and to imagine vain
And useless, Pow'rs by whom inspir'd, thyself
Art skillfill to associate verse with airs
Harmonious, and to give the human voice
A thousand modulations, heir by right
Indisputable of Arion's fame.
Now say, what wonder is it, if a son
Of thine delight in verse, if so conjoin'd
In close affinity, we sympathize
In social arts and kindred studies sweet?
Such distribution of himself to us
Was Phoebus' choice; thou hast thy gift, and I
Mine also, and between us we receive,
Father and son, the whole inspiring God.
No. Howsoe'er the semblance thou assume
Of hate, thou hatest not the gentle Muse,
My Father! for thou never bad'st me tread
The beaten path and broad that leads right on
To opulence, nor did'st condemn thy son
To the insipid clamours of the bar,
To laws voluminous and ill observ'd,
But, wishing to enrich me more, to fill
My mind with treasure, led'st me far away
From city-din to deep retreats, to banks
And streams Aonian, and, with free consent
Didst place me happy at Apollo's side.
I speak not now, on more important themes
Intent, of common benefits, and such
As Nature bids, but of thy larger gifts
My Father! who, when I had open'd once
The stores of Roman rhetoric, and learn'd
The full-ton'd language, of the eloquent Greeks,
Whose lofty music grac'd the lips of Jove,
Thyself did'st counsel me to add the flow'rs
That Gallia boasts, those too with which the smooth
Italian his degentrate speech adorns,
That witnesses his mixture with the Goth,
And Palestine's prophetic songs divine.
To sum the whole, whate'er the Heav'n contains,
The Earth beneath it, and the Air between,
The Rivers and the restless deep, may all
Prove intellectual gain to me, my wish
Concurring with thy will; Science herself,
All cloud removed, inclines her beauteous head
And offers me the lip, if, dull of heart,
I shrink not and decline her gracious boon.
Go now, and gather dross, ye sordid minds
That covet it; what could my Father more,
What more could Jove himself, unless he gave
His own abode, the heav'n in which he reigns?
More eligible gifts than these were not
Apollo's to his son, had they been safe
As they were insecure, who made the boy
The world's vice-luminary, bade him rule
The radiant chariot of the day, and bind
To his young brows his own all dazzling-wreath.
I therefore, although last and least, my place
Among the Learned in the laurel-grove
Will hold, and where the conqu'ror's ivy twines,
Henceforth exempt from th'unletter'd throng
Profane, nor even to be seen by such.
Away then, sleepless Care, Complaint away,
And Envy, with thy 'jealous leer malign'
Nor let the monster Calumny shoot forth
Her venom'd tongue at me. Detested foes!
Ye all are impotent against my peace,
For I am privileged, and bear my breast
Safe, and too high, for your viperean wound.
But thou my Father! since to render thanks
Equivalent, and to requite by deeds
Thy liberality, exceeds my power,
Sufffice it, that I thus record thy gifts,
And bear them treasur'd in a grateful mind!
Ye too, the favourite pastime of my youth,
My voluntary numbers, if ye dare
To hope longevity, and to survive
Your master's funeral pile, not soon absorb'd
In the oblivious Lethaean gulph
Shall to Futurity perhaps convey
This theme, and by these praises of my sire
Improve the Fathers of a distant age.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010



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